What Makes Us Catholic Traditionalists

by I. Shawn McElhinney and Pete Vere, JCL

Judging by the mixed response towards Msgr. Calkins' recent talk to the Latin Liturgy Association, there appears to be some confusion over what constitutes a traditional Catholic. This seems rather strange to the present authors, who are both traditional Catholics, since we both presume a traditional Catholic is one who adheres to Catholic Tradition. Therefore, let us examine five criteria from Catholic Tradition so that we may, we hope, resolve this controversy.

Papal Perpetuity

First, a traditional Catholic recognizes not only the authority of the Roman Pontiff as the Successor of Peter, but also the permanence of the primacy for all time. This would include the reign of Pope John Paul II. In short, as traditional Catholics we declare with one voice the following words from the First Vatican Council:

That which our lord Jesus Christ, the prince of shepherds and great shepherd of the sheep, established in the blessed apostle Peter, for the continual salvation and permanent benefit of the Church, must of necessity remain for ever, by Christ's authority, in the Church which, founded as it is upon a rock, will stand firm until the end of time. [1]

In other words, we affirm our traditional Catholicism because we recognize the authority of the current Roman Pontiff within the institution of the Catholic Church. Those who disagree with us may be traditional, but not within the context of Catholic Tradition.

Submission in Disciplinary Matters

Second, as traditional Catholics we submit ourselves in obedience to the current Roman Pontiff. To quote from the First Vatican Council:

To him, in blessed Peter, full power has been given by our lord Jesus Christ to tend, rule and govern the universal Church. All this is to be found in the acts of the ecumenical councils and the sacred canons...

 Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity...are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world. [2]

In short, Catholic Tradition maintains we must submit to the Roman Pontiff in matters of discipline and governance, not merely in faith and morals.

The Pope Judges Tradition

Third, some folks infuriated by the Ecclesia Dei Commission are confused over who is the final arbiter of Catholic Tradition. A sample of their writings includes the following:

The Pope, as the Vicar of Christ, is given by Christ direct authority over the whole Church, but he is
not infallible in everything he says or does...God through His Catholic Church has absolute authority over my conscience, but in the last resort God meant me to judge, if His hierarchy is departing from His teaching. Obedience to men has limits. --Galatians 1:8-9 [3]

As one can see, these folks claim the ability to judge the Roman Pontiff if they feel he is departing from God's teaching. In practical terms, these folks claim a higher competency than the Roman Pontiff to judge sacred Tradition. Their claim however is not in accordance with the Tradition of the Catholic Church. Rather, their claim appears to be more in keeping with the tradition of Fr. Martin Luther, who claimed at the Diet of Worms, I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other."

As for those who claim Pope John Paul II has misinterpreted Catholic Tradition, this claim follows the tradition of Calvin's following assertion:  "Nothing therefore can be more absurd than the fiction that judging the Scriptures is in the Church and that on her nod its certainty depends."

Thus, in keeping with Catholic Tradition, as traditional Catholics we submit to, rather than undermine, the judgment of Pope John Paul II when mediating sacred Tradition.

Submission to Vatican II

Fourth, we do not as traditional Catholics impugn the legitimacy of the ecumenical councils. Rather, we recognize and submit to the teachings of all of the Church's ecumenical councils, including the Second Vatican Council. This is because in keeping with Catholic Tradition, we recognize that the teachings of an ecumenical council, including ones called for pastoral reasons, are an act of the Church's teaching Magisterium. As the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia explains in its entry under "General Councils":

From the earliest times they who rejected the decisions of councils were themselves rejected by the Church...The infallibility of the council is intrinsic, i.e. springs from its nature. Christ promised to be in the midst of two or three of His disciples gathered together in His name; now an Ecumenical council is, in fact or in law, a gathering of all Christ's co-workers for the salvation of man through true faith and holy conduct; He is therefore in their midst, fulfilling His promises and leading them into the truth for which they are striving. His presence, by cementing the unity of the assembly into one body -- His own mystical body -- gives it the necessary completeness, and makes up for any defect possibly arising from the physical absence of a certain number of bishops. [4]

Therefore, even when a matter raised in an ecumenical council is not definitively settled, as in the case of some of the Second Vatican Council's teachings - we recognize that the truth of a doctrine does not depend upon the express invocation of infallibility, but rather infallibility is intrinsic to an ecumenical council.

All Approved Liturgies are Traditional

Fifth, traditional Catholics worship according to a rite of Mass permitted by the Bishop of Rome. Some of the more common liturgical forms within the Latin Church are Pope Paul VI's reformed usage of the Roman Missal, the 1962 Indult permitted by Pope John Paul II, and the Anglican Usage in the Roman liturgy. As traditional Catholics, we do not impugn any of the Church's approved liturgical forms. Rather, in keeping with Catholic Tradition, we adhere to the seventh canon on the Sacrifice of the Mass from the Council of Trent. This canon states:

If anyone says that the ceremonies, vestments, and outward signs which the Catholic Church makes use of in the celebration of Masses are incentives to impiety, rather than offices of piety; let him be anathema. [5]

Because Pope Paul VI validly promulgated his reform of the Roman Missal, traditional Catholics recognize the Novus Ordo as an approved liturgy of the Catholic Church. Some traditional Catholics may prefer to worship according to the former 1962 liturgical usage; however, they recognize in keeping with the Council of Trent that the Novus Ordo is an office of piety.


We do not as traditional Catholics pay lip service to the obligations of a faithful Catholic, and upon our own private judgment decide when to comply with lawful ecclesiastical authority. Rather, in keeping with Catholic Tradition, we submit to the Roman Pontiff and the diocesan bishop in communion with him. Therefore, with regards to Msgr. Calkins' most recent critics, we need not be concerned with false allegations claiming that traditional Catholicism is under attack. Rather, we must ask ourselves as traditional Catholics whether those who perpetuate such criticism truly conform to Catholic Tradition.

I. Shawn McElhinney and Pete Vere
The Catholic Legate
March 9, 2004

Originally Published in The Wanderer December 6, 2001


[1] Vatican I: Dogmatic Constitution "Pastor Aeternus" 2,1 (July 18, 1870)

[2] Vatican I: Dogmatic Constitution "Pastor Aeternus" 3,1,2 (July 18, 1870)

[3] Society of St. Pius X: "Where is Catholic Obedience Today?"

[4] Catholic Encyclopedia: From the article "General Councils" (c. 1913)

[5] Council of Trent: Canon Seven on the Sacrifice of the Mass from Session XXII (September 17, 1562)

Other Notes:

The citations from the First Vatican Council were obtained at the following link:

The citation from a Society of St. Pius X Pamphlet on "Obedience" can be read at the following link:

Warning: The nature of the above site is one of promoting disobedience to the Supreme Pontiff and a refusal to maintain communion with those who are subject to him. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church 817 on schism and the Code of Canon Law 751 which the section references.) For this reason, the present authors cannot in conscience recommend the site at all and post the above link for verification purposes only.

The citation from the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) article "General Councils" was obtained at the following link:

The citation from the Council of Trent was obtained at the following link:

2003, 2001 "What Makes Us Catholic Traditionalists", written by I. Shawn McElhinney and Pete Vere JCL. This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.